More than a dozen Vermont school districts are sounding the alarm on widespread staffing shortages that are impacting plans to return to a full in-person learning schedule.
The 16 districts are all members of the Champlain Valley Superintendents Association, and cover the counties of Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle. Leaders in each district say they’re stretched thin, and need to fill 100 positions to be fully staffed and able to sustain regular in-person education.
“We’re kind of a desert,” said Superintendent Lynn Cota of the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union. “We have positions that are still open for professional staff that we have no candidates for, or maybe one or two non-licensed or non-qualified candidates.”
Amid a push to transition students in lower grades back to the classroom and away from remote learning, Cota believes a lack of personnel is causing logistical challenges, and that goes from teachers down through school support staff.
“We’ve had some flexibility that we no longer have in terms of the hybrid model we started in. The pressure to fill these positions is kind of on,” Cota said.
Amy Rex, superintendent of the Milton Town School District, said it’s not just a matter of getting support staff levels back to what was considered normal before the pandemic, because current health and safety guidelines have fundamentally changed the way schools operate.
“We can’t go without those support staff people if we continue to increase our numbers,” Rex said. “Typically, all students go to the cafeteria at the same time, and then you have two supervisors who supervise lunch. Now, every classroom has to have lunch supervision… We’re just figuring out how to put the puzzle pieces together.”
With 100 positions to fill, superintendents around the region are urging people to consider applying, warning that if positions aren’t filled, there’s likely going to be a delay in bringing students back full time.
“I think it’s very fragile right now,” said Superintendent Sean McMannon of the Winooski School District. “That’s why we’re reaching out and basically appealing to our communities, otherwise we will either have to stop our plans where they are, or we may have to backtrack.”
McMannon added that his district is finding it particularly hard to find qualified candidates in special education and other areas with strict requirements.
If staffing shortages aren’t filled soon, there’s concern that districts may have to keep remote learning part of the schedule for at least the immediate future, and perhaps beyond.